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The Understand Energy Learning Hub is a cross-campus effort of the Precourt Institute for Energy.

Wind Energy

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Fast Facts About
Wind Energy

Principal Energy Use: Electricity
Form of Energy: Kinetic

Wind energy uses naturally flowing air in the Earth's atmosphere to generate mechanical power and electricity. It is a fully renewable resource and has few climate and environmental impacts. Because only 2% of the total area within a wind farm is occupied by wind infrastructure, the remaining 98% is available for agriculture, grazing, or other uses. Like solar, wind is intermittent and site specific, which can pose challenges for transmission and  grid integration.

Wind energy can be generated onshore or offshore. Over 90% of wind power today is onshore. Although offshore offers stronger and steadier winds, projects are 2-3x more costly than onshore projects.

Wind energy is one of the lowest cost sources of electricity. Technology improvements in design and software systems make it one of  the largest and fastest growing electricity resources worldwide with lots of potential for further development both onshore and offshore.


Significance

Energy Mix

3% of world ๐ŸŒŽ
(#6 resource)
2% of US ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
(#6 resource)

Electricity Generation

7% of world ๐ŸŒŽ
(#5 resource)
10% of US ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
(#4 resource)

Onshore vs Offshore Installed Capacity*

93% onshore
7% offshore

Change in Global Wind Electricity Generation

Increase:
โฌ†84%
(2017-2022)

*Onshore wind - wind turbines installed on land; offshore wind - wind turbines installed in bodies of water


World

Most Installed Wind Electricity Capacity

Total: China 40% ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ
Onshore: China 40% ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ
Offshore: China 49% ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ,
EU+UK 47% ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง

Most Wind Electricity Generation

Total: China 36%๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ,
EU+UK 25% ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง,
US 21%๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
 Onshore: China 36% ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ,
US 23%๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
EU+UK 22% ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง
Offshore: EU+UK 61% ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง,
China 38% ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ

Highest Penetration

Denmark 56% ๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ฐ
of countryโ€™s electricity
comes from wind


US

Most Installed Capacity

Texas 27%
of US installed wind electricity capacity*

Most Generation

Texas 27%
of US wind electricity*

Highest Penetration

Iowa 55%
of stateโ€™s electricity
comes from wind

Change in US Wind Electricity Generation

Increase:
โฌ†71%
(2017-2022)

*Virtually 100% of US installed capacity for wind electricity generation is onshore


Wind Turbines

Diagram showing parts of a wind turbine

A wind turbine includes a nacelle with blades and a rotor hub mounted on a tower:

  • The nacelle houses the generator and gearbox, and supports the rotor and blades. It is the size of a school bus (50 ft long)
  • Blades on onshore turbines can be 203 ft long, while offshore blades can reach 351 ft (about the length of a football field)
  • Average tower height for onshore turbines is 466 ft, but can reach 574 ft, while the tallest offshore tower is 853 ft (GE Haliade-X), about the height of a 60-story building

Winds are stronger and steadier the higher they are from the ground. As wind velocity increases, wind power grows exponentially. In addition, longer blades cover a larger swept area and can harness more wind.

Wind power equation:

$$P_{wind} = {1\over2}ฯAv^3$$

ฯ: air density
A: swept area = ๐…r2
r: radius of the rotor
v: air speed


Costs of US Wind Projects

Costs for offshore projects are 2-3x costs for onshore + higher transmission costs

  1. Onshore: unsubsidized LCOE* = $24 - $75
  2. Offshore: unsubsidized LCOE = $72 - $140

*LCOE (levelized cost of electricity) - price for which a unit of electricity must be sold for system to break even

Compare costs with subsidies and for other resources on the Introduction to Renewable Energy Fast Facts.

Costs of wind energy have fallen over time:

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Avian and Bat Concerns

Avian Concerns

US Fish & Wildlife Service Top Threats to Birds
Hazard/TypeEstimated Annual US Bird Fatalities (millions)
Cats1,400-3,700
Building Glass Collisions365-988
Vehicle Collisions89-340
Poison72
Electrical Line Collisions8-57.3
Communication Tower Collisions6.6
Electrocutions0.9-11.6
Oil Pits0.5-1
Onshore Wind Turbine Collisions0.1-0.3
Potential Solutions:
  • Siting (avoid migratory corridors)
  • Increase participation in the Eagle Take Permit Program
  • GPS on condors
  • Replacing older wind turbines with new ones 
  • Detection radars

Bat Concerns

  • Larger problem than birds: an estimated 450,000 โ€“ 888,000 killed annually in the US by wind turbines, but data is limited
  • Deaths typically happen at night, during migration periods, and during times of low wind
Potential Solutions:
  • Increase cut-in speed*
  • Ultrasonic acoustics
  • Seasonal operational curtailment

*Cut-in speed - wind speed at which the turbine blades start rotating and generating power

Climate Change Tradeoff

National Audubon Society supports wind energy because 389 species of North American birds face extinction if global warming reaches 3ยฐ C above pre-industrial levels, and wind energy can help reduce this major threat.


Drivers

  • Abundant, nondepletable resource
  • Low climate and environmental impact
  • Onshore wind: source of electricity with lowest unsubsidized LCOE; dual land use with agriculture; quick to install, easy to repair (modular)
  • Offshore wind: fewer site availability constraints; stronger and steadier winds
  • Short implementation timeframe from project start to electricity generation
  • Technology innovation in turbines that has increased productivity and driven costs down 
  • Financial incentives (zero emission tax credits, investment tax credits, production tax credits, feed-in tariffs)
  • Renewable energy targets

Barriers

  • Local opposition (NIMBY/BANANA*) often because of misconceptions
  • Visual and noise pollution
  • Avian/bat concerns
  • Site-specific resource
  • Difficult grid integration due to intermittency
  • Insufficient transmission infrastructure and interconnection challenges
  • Inconsistent policy support
  • Offshore wind: greater regulation/permitting hurdles; expensive installation, operation, and maintenance; 2-3x LCOE of onshore wind
  • Lack of recyclability of composite materials
  • Constrained supply chains

*NIMBY - not in my backyard; BANANA - build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything


Climate Impact: Low

Low gradient
  • Near-zero emissions

Environmental Impact: Low

Low gradient
  • No air pollution
  • No water use
  • Small land footprint
  • Lack of recycling of composite materials
  • Impact on birds and bats

Updated March 2024

Our 10-Minute Take On
Wind Energy

If you're short on time, start by watching this video of key highlights from our lecture on Wind Energy.

Diana Gragg

Presented by: Diana Gragg, PhD; Core Lecturer, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University; Explore Energy Managing Director, Precourt Institute for Energy
Recorded: March 9, 2022  Duration: 8 minutes

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Before You Watch Our Lecture on
Wind Energy

We assign videos and readings to our Stanford students as pre-work for each lecture to help contextualize the lecture content. We strongly encourage you to review the Essential videos and readings before watching our lecture on Wind Energy . Include selections from the Optional and Useful list based on your interests and available time.

Essential

Optional and Useful

Great Wind Flow Websites

  • Global Wind Map. earth.nullschool.net. 
    A real time global map of wind conditions.
  • Windy. Windy.com.
    A real time depiction of average wind speed 10 meters above the surface (or at selected pressure level).
  • US Wind Energy Maps. US Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. WINDExchange.
    Find maps and charts showing US wind energy data and trends.
  • US Wind Map. Hint.fm.
    A real time map depicting surface wind data in the US.

Wind Data Visualization Tools

  • Global Wind Atlas. DTU Wind Energy, World Bank, and International Finance Corporation.
    An application with downloadable datasets developed to provide insights into wind resource potential in support of wind power siting and development (real time).
  • Land-Based Market Report Interactive Visualizations. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, for US Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.
    Scroll to the bottom of this landing page and select the โ€œVisualizationsโ€ tab to access a series of interactive data visualizations relevant to wind power cost, growth, market value, performance, pricing, and technology trends.
  • Wind Integration National Dataset Toolkit. National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
    A series of wind-related datasets to support wind integration studies draw from data gathered from 126,000 sites in the continental US for the years 2007โ€“2013.
  • WindViz Gridded Wind Toolkit Visualizer. National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
    A visualization of instantaneous wind speed at 100 meters over the continental US using 2007-2013 data from WIND Toolkit.

Our Lecture on
Wind Energy

This is our Stanford University Understand Energy course lecture on wind energy. We strongly encourage you to watch the full lecture to understand wind as an energy system and to be able to put this complex topic into context. For a complete learning experience, we also encourage you to watch / read the Essential videos and readings we assign to our students before watching the lecture.

Jane Woodward

Presented by: Jane Woodward, Adjunct Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University; Founder and Managing Partner, WovenEarth Ventures; Founding Partner, MAP Energy
Recorded on: November 16, 2023  Duration: 59 minutes

Table of Contents

(Clicking on a timestamp will take you to YouTube.)
00:00 Introduction 
09:58 Significance of Wind Energy 
13:51 -Onshore Wind 
26:32 -Offshore Wind 
33:07 Wind Turbine Technology 
44:01 Wind Farm Development 
49:19 Environmental Impacts of Wind Energy 
53:10 Economics of Wind Energy 
55:18 Wind Energy Policies 
58:13 The Future of Wind Energy

Lecture slides available upon request.

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Additional Resources About
Wind Energy

Stanford University

Government and International Organizations

Fast Facts Sources

More details available on request.
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